Why the Heart Moves
Forest Barbarians were three-meter tall giants that moved in pairs. They were similar to humans except they had four arms, only one eye, the surface of their body was smooth and greenish, and they didn’t wear clothes.
They were also called “Green Giants” or “Forest Guardians” – not much creative thought went into naming them.
But they posed a great threat. One could tell by their ripped body that they were much stronger than humans. Plus they had four arms. To take one down, it was standard practice to have two people with shields to pin them down. That was what the book in the reference room said.
However, Paula’s party had Pia on the front lines who had a long sword as a weapon. While excellent at landing a blow at the tall Forest Barbarian, it wasn’t suited for a defensive battle. As a matter of fact, as Pia blocked the monster’s club with her sword, its other arm swung a log that hit her right in the gut and sent her flying.
「Paula, go heal her!」Priscilla cried.
Paula ran over to Pia and started chanting a healing spell. In the meantime, Priscilla drew the attention of the Forest Barbarian with her bow and arrow. The monster, however, simply shot a glance at Priscilla before charging to Pia.
Priscilla fired an arrow at its defenceless back. It was a direct hit – or at least it was – but the tip just barely managed to stick to its flesh. It fell off immediately afterward. Forest Barbarians had tough skin. Only a powerful blow or a particularly sharp blade would have any effect on it.
「Pia, Paula, run!」
Priscilla’s warning came too late. Paula had her back turned, reciting the healing spell incantation. Pia was too hurt to move. The Forest Barbarian was behind them, swinging its club down.
「Run… Paula…」Pia said as tears streamed down her face.
If Paula didn’t get away, she would die with her. Paula knew this as well. But she didn’t stop reciting the incantation – she didn’t stop pleading to the gods for a miracle.
“You said you’d protect me, so I’ll protect you as well” was written on Paula’s face. She even smiled a little.
「No… you can’t… you must go, Paula…!」Pia begged.
Paula simply shook her head. The monster’s club swung downward—.
But the blow never came. Slowly, its arms dropped and so did the Forest Barbarian.
While Pia was baffled by what happened, the healing magic came into effect. This magic – the magic to bring about a miracle in someone else’s body – required a prayer to the gods. The incantation itself was long, like the so-called ritual prayers in temples. The weakness of healing magic was that the user was vulnerable while reciting the spell. In exchange, it was extremely effective.
Pia felt her crushed ribs reconnecting themselves. While healing magic was indeed powerful, Paula’s high aptitude to it played a part as well. However, now was not the time to think about her injuries. How did the Forest Barbarian just collapse like that?
「You girls have been on death’s door twice now in just a span of a few days. Do you have a death wish or something?」
A boy with black hair and equally black eyes stood there. Hikaru.
Let us go back in time for a bit.
As soon as Hikaru saw the Forest Barbarian, he left the sack with the Red-horned Rabbit with Lavia and started running. He could’ve used Group Obfuscation so they could both get closer. But to kill the tall Forest Barbarian with one blow, he needed to jump. It was much faster for him to go alone. One hit at its spinal cord and the creature was dead. Hikaru felt his Soul Rank increase.
Paula was exhausted from using her healing magic, yet she made an effort to look cheerful. She tried to get on her feet only to fall over.
「Paula! Don’t push yourself too hard.」
「You’re the one who pushed herself too hard, Pia.」
「Ugh… I’m sorry.」
Priscilla ran over to them to help Paula up. Meanwhile, Lavia just made it to Hikaru’s side, breathing hard as she dragged the heavy sack with her.
「Ah, sorry you had to bring that all the way here.」
「Hikaru, are these your friends?」
「Uh, more like acquaintances.」
Lavia cast a glance at Priscilla’s ample bosom, narrowing her eyes, but Hikaru didn’t notice.
「Pia, Paula, can you stand? Can you get back to Pond?」
「Y-Yeah, we’ll manage. Sorry about all this. You saved our lives not once, but twice now.」
「You guys are too rash. Why were you facing a Forest Barba—」
Hikaru stopped mid-sentence. A Forest Barbarian this close to town? Strange. The girls thought it was weird as well.
「We were out to collect materials and hunt smaller monsters so we’d have money for the time being. We didn’t expect to encounter a lone Green Giant out here.」
「Lone? It didn’t have a partner?」
「We’d be dead by now if there were two of them.」
「So you didn’t take down one. Hmm.」
Hikaru had his hand on his chin, thinking.
Then it hit him. He killed a Forest Barbarian back in the forest by the lake. It was operating solo back then, but he thought nothing about it. In hindsight, that might’ve been this one’s partner.
The forest was huge – so huge in fact that it was connected all the way to the one near the lake. The Forest Barbarian thought it was a human who killed its partner so it came all the way here for revenge.
So they were attacked because of me?!
Cold sweat trickled down his back.
「What’s wrong?」Lavia asked.
Hikaru tried his best to look calm. Of course, it could all just be him overthinking things, but the guilt wouldn’t go away.
「Hikaru-sama, you may take all the materials you can get from this monster. Of course, you have the right since you took it down.」
「N-No, I can’t. You’re the ones who fought it.」
「It was you who killed it.」
「That may be true… but I can’t! And that’s final.」
「…What’s wrong? You seem to be flustered.」
「I’m not flustered.」
While thinking about how to refuse Paula’s offer, he looked at Lavia and at the sack she was carrying – dragging, rather.
「We already got ourselves a kill. We can’t bring any more with us. Besides, the Forest Barbarian has plenty of injuries. It won’t fetch much, so paying for someone to carry it is not worth it.」
「Okay. How can we thank you, then?」
「It’s okay! You don’t have to do anything! Anyway, let’s go back to town. If you want to, you guys can take the materials from the monster. I only ask you to not give my name. I seem to attract trouble.」
The girls didn’t seem to agree at first, but they gave in after what he said. The Forest Barbarian’s skin could be harvested as materials. Tough and smooth, some processing will make it easier to dye. The standard price for the skin from one Forest Barbarian was 50,000 gilans, but “standard” in this case was a deceptive term. The standard price referred to the price ceiling for a spotless skin. It was natural for monsters one fought to have injuries. Plus the girls seemed to have had a drawn-out battle with the Forest Barbarian so they would probably only get around 10,000 gilans.
Priscilla, who was relatively fine, started peeling off the skin from the back of the Forest Barbarian.
「Oh, right. His name is Renclaw. My… partner.」
Hikaru introduced Lavia to the girls (as Renclaw). She felt just a tad bit embarrassed from being called his partner, lowering her cap over her eyes.
「P-Partner… A pretty boy partner?!」
Paula was strangely excited.
The town was close, so Hikaru and Lavia went on ahead first. It was almost sundown when Priscilla finished peeling the skin off.
「Let’s hurry. Can you run, Pia?」
「Yeah, no worries. Priscilla?」
「What’s wrong? Why are you spacing out?」
「I’m not spacing out.」
Priscilla was staring at the Forest Barbarian’s corpse. On its nape was a wound from when Hikaru stabbed it.
「What? Is something wrong?」
「It’s nothing. Let’s go back.」
「If you say so.」
The three of them hurried back to town.
As soon as they got back to town, Hikaru and Lavia headed for the Adventurers Guild.
「Who was that Paula girl?」
「Hmm… A novice adventurer who uses healing magic, I guess?」
「That’s it? You’re acquainted with her, right?」
「Yeah. Is something bothering you about her?」
Wait, was Lavia’s identity exposed? Hikaru wondered, stopping in his tracks.
「…I felt something.」
「I’m sure that girl likes you.」
「I just know it. A woman’s instincts are often right.」
Hikaru sank down on the ground, feeling exhausted. You had me worried there for nothing.
「I think well of her, but that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.」
「You don’t have to worry. You’re the only one I see.」
Lavia’s face turned beet red.
「Uh… that’s not fair.」
「What are you even worried about? That I’m making eyes at her? I don’t really intend to do that.」
「No. I’m sure you’re popular with the girls because you’re cool.」
「Yeah, no. Nuh uh.」
Back in Japan they called me cocky, a smart-ass, cocky, that I had a philosophical outlook in life, and that I was cocky, but never “cool”.
Oh wait, there was actually that one time Hazuki-senpai said “You’re a cool guy, Hikaru-kun”, thought it was more like she was making fun of me. Nothing more.
「I said we were acquaintances, but I actually saved her life once before. So there’s a possibility she idolizes me.」
Basically what she felt was similar to the suspension bridge effect in which someone mistook the increased heart rate from fear to be that of love.
「Well in that case, I guess it’s all right.」
「I’m glad you understand. Now let’s go to the guild. Here.」
「We’re holding hands? I thought we weren’t going invisible while in town.」
「I just want to hold hands.」
「…Jeez! Like I said, that’s not fair…」
Sulky and flushing from embarrassment, Lavia held Hikaru’s hand.
「But isn’t it weird for two boys to be holding hands?」
「…You’re right. There’s not a lot of people around anyway so I guess we can hide ourselves.」
In the end, Hikaru used Group Obfuscation. Lavia moved closer to Hikaru until their shoulders touched. She giggled.
「…You’re the one being unfair.」Hikaru said.
「Hmm? Did you say something?」
It was closing time when they arrived at the guild. Most adventurers had already left and Gloria was the only one at the counter. Apparently, it was Aurora’s shift from early morning until noon, Jill’s from morning to just past noon, and Gloria’s from noon until sundown. Gloria was able to shoo the adventurers away quickly so it made sense that she was the one in charge of closing the guild.
「So this is the Adventurers Guild…」
There weren’t a lot of adventurers left so Hikaru brought Lavia inside. She looked around restlessly. Her clothes weren’t exactly cheap, so they seemed quite out-of-place.
「Oh, if it isn’t Hikaru-san.」
「Is Unken-san around?」
「He is, but I don’t think he can see you today. Is this perhaps about a Red-horned Rabbit?」
I’m glad she’s quick on the uptake, Hikaru thought.
「I’ll just dress the meat and hand it over. The assessment can be done tomorrow. Is that all right?」
「That would be great. I’m sorry for all this. Unken-san is the one who wants to assess them and yet you’re the one making a compromise.」
「It’s okay. I can practice dissection as well. I’m not really good at it yet though so the meat might not be all that great. Oh, and I’m taking the innards.」
「Okay. The guild doesn’t buy those anyway, but what are you going to use them for?」
「The manager over at Pasta Magic wants them.」
Hikaru failed to notice Gloria’s eyes shine for a brief moment.
「I’ll be using the dissection area at the back if you don’t mind.」
「Of course… Ah.」
「Are you taking your friend with you?」
「Yeah. Over here, Renclaw.」
Lavia quickly went over to Hikaru and bowed her head at Gloria. The receptionist looked like a saint with her bright smile, but Hikaru knew she was a scheming woman. He was not buying it.
「Do you want to become an adventurer, Renclaw-san?」
「Ah, yes. I want to.」
「Would you like to register, then?」she asked cheerfully like she was simply asking one out for tea.
Lavia’s eyes sparkled from Gloria’s suggestion, but Hikaru interrupted them.
「Whoa, whoa. Don’t just decide things without me. Didn’t you say your parents haven’t given you permission to register for the guild?」
「Ah, that’s right.」Lavia said.
「Is that so? The Adventurers Guild is a legitimate and proper organization, though.」
「Sure, the organization itself is proper.」
「You seem to be implying something, Hikaru-san.」
「Unfortunately, there’s a receptionist who sends a novice adventurer to the Thieves Guild for errands. An organization might be proper, but its employees could be crooked.」
「Oh, my. There’s a receptionist like that around?」Gloria said, smiling.
How can she even smile like that? Hikaru thought, smiling back.
「So anyway, we’re headed to the dissection area. Later.」
「Okay! Let’s have a nice, long talk next time, Hikaru-san.」
「If I’m free.」
Hikaru made his way to the dissection area with Lavia. As always, he had no idea what went on in that woman’s head, which terrified him.
「…I’m sorry, Hikaru.」
「I can’t even register for the Adventurers Guild…」
If she registered here, her name Lavia would come up and things would go horribly wrong.
「You can’t. Not in this country, at least.」
「They’ll be looking for you only within the kingdom, right? It should be all right once we’re out of Ponsonia. The Adventures Guild network spreads far and wide even beyond the kingdom’s borders. You can simply register abroad.」
「So we’re not staying in this town forever?」
「Nope. Only until the heat dies down. Once it does, we can go anywhere, so cheer up.」
At the back of the guild, where it was dark and no one was watching, Lavia moved closer and held his arms.
「…Thank you.」Lavia whispered in his ears.
「No problem.」Hikaru answered curtly, feeling nice and warm inside.
After that, he dissected the Red-horned Rabbit like crazy.